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Posts Tagged ‘shock and disbelief after suicide’

Once in a funeral Mass homily, my pastor remarked that the death of loved ones, no matter how elderly or infirm they may be, always brings a certain shock to mourners. I knew what he meant, having watched my father dwindle over a period of years and finally die of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 81 in 1997. It was a shock that someone so familiar to me had passed into Mystery–a reality utterly different from the one I was living, a hiddenness that was unfathomable.

Even so, my daughter’s suicide two years earlier had sent shockwaves through me unlike any I’ve ever experienced. In truth, the shock of her death manifested not as waves of emotion but rather as enveloping numbness that lasted for at least a year. In Suicide: Survivors, Adina Wrobleski describes shock as a “physical reaction that makes us feel as if we’re wrapped in cotton, that we’re sleepwalking. Shock makes our pain feel far away” (p.91).

Shock protects us not only from the outside world but from our own overpowering feelings. It got me through the first year of bereavement in a more or less stable way: clothes got washed, dinners got put on the table, the family held together, and nothing worse happened.

Clinical researchers John Jordan and John McIntosh write that “shock and disbelief [are] more likely a characteristic of most or all sudden and unexpected deaths–not simply suicide” (Grief After Suicide, p.32).

But I say the suicide of my seventeen-year-old daughter in 1995 was a great deal more than sudden and unexpected. It was brutal, irrational, and void of meaning. It forced me to look at my own blindness and accept a loss I never could have imagined. Above all, it magnified a hundred times the normal shock and disbelief most of us experience in bereavement.

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